Author: Jonathan Hensleigh
Writer’s Potential: 5
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Back in 1934, Danny’s mother dies giving birth to him. Doctors persuade his father to give him up to the foster-care system until he can take care of him. Twelve years later, the already-hardened Danny leaves the orphanage with his birth father and stepmother. As they fight, Danny escapes by reading books. He and friend BILL McDUFFY cheat some Italian kids at craps. The kids chase them through the rough, industrial neighborhood until they get backed into a dead end. A raucous fight ensues, culminating in one kid ramming a pencil clean through the palm of Danny’s hand. Danny doesn’t flinch, doesn’t react. This terrifies the kids more than anything. They scatter.
1960. Now in their 20s, Danny and Bill are longshoremen at the Cleveland docks. Along with friends JACKIE McMULLEN and ART SNEPERGER, they unload grain ships. Danny is frustrated to find the ships are always overloaded with grain. He tries to argue with the foreman, who just ridicules the workers. They spot their union leader, wealthy WALTER WEAVER, glad-handing as he runs for reelection. They night, the guys go out drinking at a local bar/casino, where they gripe about how useless and corrupt Weaver is. The next day, they unload yet another overfilled grain ship. This time, a man gets pulled into the grain and sinks like quicksand. As the others try to pull him out, the foreman turns a blind eye. Frustrated, Danny pulls an emergency alert, which evacuates all the longshoremen from all the grain ships. Weaver is furious, even moreso when Danny gets in his face. That night, Danny has sex with NANCY in the back of a car when Art rushes up to him, claiming he’s in trouble. He takes Danny to a casino run by mafioso John Nardi, where Danny makes a proposition to pay off Art’s massive gambling debt. That night, Danny leads some mafiosi to a container ship, where they load it up with stolen merchandise. This impresses Nardi.
Danny attempts to run for union president, but Weaver gets the word out that anyone who shows support for him will not get a job on the docks. Jackie McMullen turns up with a bullet in his head, which is followed by a warning from Weaver to withdraw from the election. Danny refuses, so Weaver sends JOE BUKA to kill Danny. Instead, Danny beats the hell out of Joe and shoots him in the head. Without his muscle, Weaver has no choice but to let Danny continue with his campaign. Danny wins by a landslide and immediately starts doing things differently — only with slightly more corruption, threatening shipping company executives, stealing from containers, etc. Art shows them a container filled with Czech C-4. He shows Danny how to detonate it, and they’re massively impressed with its yield. The FBI begins to investigate the union. In 1964, a story breaks about union corruption. Danny is arrested, but FBI Special Agent McCANN makes Danny a deal: he doesn’t have to testify, they’ll drop some of the charges, as long as he pleads guilty, accepts a lifetime ban from the union, and reports organized crime happenings to the FBI. The local police are livid that the FBI is releasing Danny.
Things get sticky, financially, for Danny and Nancy (to whom he’s now married, with kids), until Danny reaches out to Nardi, who hooks him up with SHONDOR BIRNS, a ruthless killer. Shondor puts Danny on the payroll as muscle for “debt collection.” Danny brings Bill and Art along with him as they chase deadbeats. Nancy’s not happy about the occupational change, but now that Danny’s a convicted felon, he doesn’t see much else he can do. Nardi introduces Danny to fellow mob bosses JACK LICAVOLI and “BIG ANGE” LONARDO. They want Danny’s help “convincing” garbage companies — of which there are over 200 — to form a corrupt union run by the Mob. Danny, Bill, Art, and their garbage insider KEITH RITSON go around town beating up garbagemen until they agree to join up. The only holdout is MIKE FRATO, an old acquaintance of Danny’s who has 10 kids. Despite this, Licavoli and Big Ange insist Mike has to die. They set up a C-4 charge under Mike’s car, but it ends up detonating unexpectedly, killing Art long before Mike comes anywhere near his car. Mike’s angry, comes after Danny with a gun. They get into a gunfight at a city park, which results in Danny killing him. He’s arrested by the locals, but McCann shows up to ensure his freedom. When Danny gets home, Nancy takes the kids and leaves him.
1975. Danny, Bill, and Keith have added two younger men (KEVIN McTAGGART and BRIAN O’DONNELL) to their crew. At a boxing match, Danny spots a gorgeous woman — VICKY, 19 — and asks her out. Shondor decides to allow Danny to open a restaurant, borrowing money from the Gambino family in New York. BILLY COX, Shondor’s courier, picks up the restaurant money in New York but spends a small amount of it on cocaine, which intends to sell but ends up using instead. He’s busted, and the remaining money goes into an evidence locker in New York instead of Danny’s pocket. Instead of helping him, Shondor reaffirms that Danny owes $70,000 to the Gambinos and needs to pay it back. Since he can’t open the restaurant and earn the money, he’ll have to find another way. Meanwhile, Shondor puts out a hit on Danny — $25,000 to anyone in Cleveland who kills “the Irishman.” Nardi alerts Danny to this, and what follows is a replay of the opening scene, from Nardi’s perspective. Nardi witnesses the explosion and immediately comes to Danny’s aid, dragging him into his own car and driving him away.
Keith calls Danny to alert him about Shondor going into a nightclub. Danny heads over there and — with the help of Keith, Brian, and Kevin — plants a bomb under Shondor’s car. He’s killed. Meanwhile, mobster TONY SINITO makes Bill an offer to take out Danny. Instead, Bill kills Tony and hides the body. Some time later, Danny calls a meeting with his guys, where he announces it’s time to take Cleveland from the Italians. They shower the citizens in slums with kindness and gifts — including buying Thanksgiving turkeys for every employee of the Cleveland Police Department — while using Nardi to help massage things with Licavoli and Big Ange. Danny’s relationship with Vicky heats up. After sleeping together, Danny either dreams of hallucinates that he’s killed and ascending to heaven, where Vicky is an angel. The reality is that someone planted a bomb in the house, which came very close to killing him. Licavoli and Big Ange are enraged that Danny survived. As they attempt more hits — including snipers — rumors begin to circulate that Danny is invincible. Interviewed on the TV news, Danny announces that he has God on his side, and if anyone wants to kill him, he’s not hiding from it. Nardi admires Danny’s balls, so he makes him an offer: the two of them, together, take down Licavoli and Big Ange. To prove he’s serious, Nardi produces the valet who wired the bomb under Danny’s car and stabs him to death right in front of Danny.
Danny and Nardi declare “war” on the Mafia. It reaches a point where he draws the attention of the New York Mob, specifically TONY SALERNO. Licavoli begs Salerno to send his top men to take out Danny. Salerno agrees. Meanwhile, Danny shows Vicky and Nardi some land he wants to buy down in Texas (which includes farms, factories, and cattle). Vicky’s impressed; Nardi isn’t, but Danny has a sound business proposal. They take it to Salerno, who hears them out. For a $2 million investment, Danny guarantees a $3 million return for them in the first year — almost all of it legitimate. Salerno agrees to think about it. Meanwhile, Salerno sends Big Ange to Los Angeles to meet with “the Ray Ferrito,” supposedly the most fearsome — and fearless — assassin in the Mob. Ray comes to Cleveland, sights set on Danny.
Salerno turns down Danny and Nardi’s proposal, so they put their attention back on taking over Cleveland. That night, Nardi is killed in a car bomb, while Danny watches. Danny is horrified and enraged. Next, Ray kills Bill McDuffy with a shotgun. Ray follows Danny, who notices and pulls a gun on him, demanding to know who he is and what he’s doing. Ray denies everything. Danny reluctantly lets him go. Keith Ritson turns up dead next. Pretending to be an electrician, Ray convinces Vicky to let him into their apartment, where he sets up recording devices to find out the best time/place to go after Danny. He picks up information about a dental appointment, follows Danny to the dentist’s office, places a bomb under the car next to Danny’s (because Danny checks his own), and that’s it for Danny Greene.
When Ray finds out Licavoli is screwing him over, he confesses everything he knows about everything to the District Attorney, fearlessly. A Cleveland police officer, in voiceover, explains that this single act — the death of Danny Greene — led to the destruction of the Mafia empire across the country, starting with Cleveland but going to Las Vegas, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and New York’s infamous Five Families.
The story follows the standard “biopic” formula of chronicling moments in a life. Instead of telling a dramatic story, it just assembles abbreviated scenes that minimize emotional impact in favor of documenting everything that went on in Danny Greene’s life. Although he led an interesting, eventful life, the first act concentrates on his time as a corrupt union boss — which has very little bearing on the story of him taking down the Cleveland Mob, which is where the meat of this story should be. The Mob has nothing to do with the exposure of his corruption. Even McCann bringing Greene in as an informant has almost nothing with what happens in the second and third act. They’re interesting tidbits, but the writer devotes significant time to what amounts to trivia that could be delivered in a line of dialogue or a quick visual to enhance the character.
The writer does a good job of conveying Danny’s ruthless, violent personality combined with a keener-than-expected intellect. Other than this, Danny’s kept at arm’s length. His relationships with women don’t reveal much insight into his personality, so while his story is interesting, the character comes across like a somewhat bland action hero rather than a living, breathing person. The writer takes the story from his birth to his death, but that doesn’t form much of a character arc. Danny is shown, as a child, acting essentially the same way he does as an adult. He doesn’t learn or change; he just pushes things one step too far and gets killed for it. Danny’s various friends and mobster pals (and enemies) have even less depth — people enter and exit (mostly via car bomb) so quickly, there’s little time to get to know anything interesting about them. Shondor is probably the most interesting supporting character, but the motives for his odd behavior are never explained.
Despite the fact that it’s presented like a combination of a biography and an action movie, The Irishman doesn’t deliver much on action. Aside from a couple of gunfights and fistfights, most of the action involves car bombs exploding, possibly the most impersonal and least dramatically compelling method of killing people. It fits the facts, and explosions are cool, but after the fourth or fifth scene depicting a guy getting into his car only to have it blow up, it gets repetitive.
Posted by D. B. Bates on February 4, 2009 10:35 PM